A Tale of Two Days - E3 2010 Press Conference Recap

The question at the beginning of E3 always seems to be, "Who's going to win this year?" The gaming community eagerly watches the big press conferences for showstopping announcements and game demonstrations, looking to see which company will have the edge for the next twelve months. E3 2010 featured five big press conferences in its first two days: Microsoft, EA, and Ubisoft on Monday, and Nintendo and Sony on Tuesday. So much has happened in the past 48 hours that I think it's important to take a moment and recap each company's showing. I've definitely missed a few announcements and details in this quick-and-dirty summary, but I think I hit all the major points.


Electronic Arts

Need for Speed hot Pursuit Police Block

Let's start with the conference that was the least-interesting: Electronic Arts. The gargantuan publisher didn't exactly have a bad showing, it just wasn't exactly full of surprises. In fact, there was only one new announcement that should get fanboys in a tizzy. As the title would have you believe, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is heading back to the chase-centric Need for Speed roots, and looks like an exciting combative racer. Another title unknown before Monday is EA Sports Active 2.0, the multiplatform follow up to last year's Wii exercise game, which of course sold extremely well and takes advantage of Microsoft's Natal camera (more info on that later) this time around along with heart-rate monitors. Otherwise, it was simply a presentation full of demos for games we already knew were coming: Dead Space 2, EA Sports MMA, Madden NFL 11, The Sims 3 (now for consoles), Crysis 2, Bulletstorm, and the new Afghanistan-set Medal of Honor, which opens a multiplayer beta during E3 week. Also detailed were the EA Gun Club, a rewards system for gamers who play EA shooters, and the new Vietnam expansion pack for Battlefield: Bad Company 2. The show ended with a CG trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic, offering the same epic feel that last year's trailer did but exposing us to zero gameplay. In all, EA's presentation was as unspectacular as it gets: only a few surprises but plenty of hands-on time with some highly-anticipated titles. Fans of those games should obviously be pleased with EA's showing, but playing it safe and showing what we already know about doesn't make for great water-cooler talk.


Child of Eden Crazy

The other software publishing giant, Ubisoft, held its conference shortly after EA's, and boy was it something to talk about, from beginning to end. Hosted by Joel McHale (of Community and E!'s The Soup) who kept things less than serious, Ubi's show opened with an unexpected trippy pleasure called Child of Eden, a spiritual successor to the Dreamcast/PS2 cult classic Rez, playable with Microsoft's Natal. The show continued with an Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood trailer and demo, followed by Ubisoft throwing their hat into the skater genre with Shaun White Skateboarding, in which the titular carrot-top mimics the Tony Hawk titles but also morphs terrain with his magical carrot-top powers. Things went quickly downhill afterwards, however, as apparently Ubisoft decided that a real-world laser tag game needed to be paired with videogame hardware for seemingly no reason, calling it Battle Tag. I'm still trying to figure out not only how the game works, but how anyone thought "It's a video game you play away from the screen!" was a good idea. The disappointment continued with Innergy, a game that claims to impact your blood pressure and immune system by encouraging you with breathing exercises, and makes sure you're following its advice with a "Energy Sensor" not unlike the Vitality Sensor Nintendo presented last year (and curiously has yet to show since). Leveling off the downward trend were two new Natal games, Motionsports and Your Shape - Fitness Evolved. The former includes such motion-centric sports as snowball fight skiing, soccer, and football, while the latter actually appears to be a pretty impressive fitness program.

Ghost Recon Future Soldier CloakishWith the casual stuff out of the way, Ubisoft took a turn for the wacky with a Raving Rabbids: Travel in Time teaser, which appears exactly how it sounds in the title and is expected to hit Wiis later this year. Ghost Recon: Future Soldier got its time in the spotlight and spent most of it showing off an invisible man sneaking around and hurting people. A new entry in the Driver series was announced as well, Driver: San Francisco. It has a very distinct 70s car chase movie feel...if 70s car chase movies starred a man in a coma who could Quantum Leap into other drivers' minds to continue chasing the bad guys. Finally, Ubisoft teased three new projects it is very excited about: something called Project Dust featuring a tribe fending off nature, a new 2D Rayman game called Rayman Origins created by five people using a toolset created specifically for people trying to make digitally-distributable games, and ManiaPlanet, a user-generated PC gaming zone that takes the community-creation feel of Trackmania and takes it to a community for three new games: Trackmania 2 (racing), Shootmania (FPS), and Questmania (RPG). FINALLY Finally, Ubisoft played Michael Jackson's "Beat It" and had people come out and dance to it, making us all assume they're making a Michael Jackson game but saying nothing further.

To put it bluntly, Ubisoft's conference was the weirdest for sure, and the one that I think most people will be picking apart in the weeks to come. They touched on everything from casual gaming to hardcore classics to community tools to ridiculous laser tag, and seemed to have little idea as to how to cram these things in the same presentation other than having a comedian come in and awkwardly try to make it all work. Genuine surprises and delights were surrounded by ideas that should never have been highlighted at a videogame expo, and it turned what could have been a decent showing into a crazy mess.


We'll end the first day's recap with the first conference that actually happened, Microsoft. It seems almost as if Microsoft had two separate shows: one for hardcore gamers, and one targeted squarely at the Wii's casual market. At times, it was just as bad as Wii's worst moments, and yet it featured what might be considered Microsoft's strongest first-party E3 lineup in quite some time.

Metal Gear Solid Rising Horizontal Slash

The house that Bill built has always been keen to feature third-party titles at their show, and started with a demo of Call of Duty: Black Ops that featured cinematic ground and whirlybird action (alongside the announcemente that all COD downloadable content would be 360-preferred) and some neat precision-slicing footage from Metal Gear Solid: Rising. From there on out, though, it was all 360-exclusive gaming, and the stalwarts arrived: Halo Reach, Fable III, and Gears of War 3. Other than Halo's unexpected foray into starship battles, no real surprises emerged from these presentations, but fans of those franchises should be quite content with the presentations of each. One nice surprise was the announcement of an exclusive partnership with Crytek, renowned developer of games reserved for supercomputers capable of enslaving humanity (and entertaining it as well!). The teased game is tentatively titled Codename: Kingdoms appeared to star gladiators, but no other information was available.

Dance Central JazzThe rest of Microsoft's conference was devoted to promoting the Natal camera hardware, now renamed Kinect. Despite its attempts to claim dominion over gaming's wave of the future, Microsoft's own offerings for the device reek of the casual fare already ruling the world via Wii and DS. Kinectimals is Nintendogs on the big screen and with more activities, Kinect Joy Ride is Mario Kart sans the controller and general craziness, and Kinect Sports has a pretty obvious parallel as well. Their final title, Kinect Adventures, features flailing families collecting and avoiding things in various on-rails experiences, and sadly appears to be the most interesting of the four. Thankfully, Microsoft's own software was dwarfed by the third-party offerings during their own show: the previously mentioned Your Shape - Fitness Evolved from Ubisoft actually managed to turn some heads with its clean presentation and active feel, while Dance Central appears to work the old Harmonix magic and make dancing in front of the TV seem that much more fun and authentic. The new Forza Motorsport from Turn 10 studios features the same pretend-steering option as Kinect Joy Ride but also has some pretty sweet augmented reality features that are sure to drive car nuts crazy. And the presentation closed with a tease for a Star Wars Kinect title, featuring a Jedi character sabering up stormtroopers, moving enemies with the force, and facing off against Darth Vader himself. Other than software, Kinect also upgrades the Xbox 360 interface in a pretty big way, making all the menus interactive with voice and motions. ESPN now has a home on 360 as well, making good use of Kinect and creating an interactive feeling while watching your favorite ESPN programming. And VideoKinect may just be the next big thing in online chat. Finally, Microsoft detailed the first Xbox 360 hardware redesign, with a slimmer and quieter system featuring Wi-Fi out of the box and a big ol' 250 gigabyte hard drive. Available now.


Day 1 was a strange creature, with a Microsoft conference that felt eerily like Nintendo's worst showings at times, an EA display that was unspectacular but firm, and a Ubisoft rollercoaster ride through a hodge-podge of oddities. Day 2 was a different monster entirely, and one that devours Day 1 in terms of E3 splendor. The biggest surprise on Day 1 was the lack of huge surprises. There were some nice new tidbits here and there, but nothing that turned heads like the big E3 reveals in years past. On the other hand, the day that belonged to Nintendo and Sony would ensure that this year's gaming extravaganza didn't end without a few moments of fanboy rapture.



Sony's conference, unlike those before it, seemed to have no moments of utter disappointment. Ironically, it was the montages upon montages upon montages of hardcore and casual games alike that may have bored some viewers. Every other second, there was a montage, sometimes of games you'd just seen! 3D montages, Move montages, PSP montages, they just kept coming and stopping the show in its tracks! Another possible downer is that much of what they showed may not be ready by the end of this year. Still, that's little to complain about considering Sony's strong overall showing, and definitely the press conference with the most game and feature announcements by a longshot.

Killzone 3 E3demo

Sony kicked off by talking about how good they are at 3D: they make the Blu-Ray discs that have the 3D that you play on your Playstation 3 that is 3D-capable that you enjoy on your 3DTVs, after all. The announcement that Super Stardust, Pain, Motorstorm Pacific Rift, and WipEout HD would all be downloadable in 3D today was a nice surprise, and that 30+ titles would be available in native 3D by March also made the few suckers who currently own 3DTVs happy. The first game demoed was Killzone 3, which was in 3D, as if videophiles didn't already have enough of a reason to play it. The audience seemed quite pleased, and Sony laid 3D on thick by listing off more 3D titles: Gran Turismo 5, Crysis 2, Mortal Kombat, Shaun White Skateboarding, Ghost Recon Future Soldier, Tron Evolution, NBA 2k11, Sly Cooper, and more.

Heroes on the Move slyWith 3D properly detailed, Sony moved on to...well, Move. Previously-seen titles like The Fight: Lights Out, SOCOM 4, Resident Evil 5 Gold, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, and Eyepet were joined by a series of new Move-centric games. Perhaps the most impressive was Sorcery, a 3rd person action adventure game starring what appears to be Harry Potter in all but name alone. The sorcerer's apprentice moves his wand in 1:1 with the player's Move controller, and casting spells looks fun and engaging. Another Move-exclusive game sure to please PS2 fans is Heroes on the Move, starring the titular characters of Jak & Daxter, Ratchet & Clank, and Sly Cooper (and his turtle pal Bentley). A Lord of the Rings title, Aragorn's Quest, made a short surprise appearance as the obvious sword-and-shield game. Tron Evolution also appears to support Move, as it was seen in a Move montage, along with a new Time Crisis game, Echochrome II, and something called Ruse. Some titles to be released before Move, such as Toy Story 3, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11, Heavy Rain, and Resident Evil 5 Gold Edition will have software updates to enable Move functionality. And of course, the casual ware was in attendance in the forms of Sports Champions, Start the Party, Singstar Dance, and TV Superstars, though seemingly downplayed and relegated to montage-fodder rather than highlighted as they would be by Microsoft or Nintendo. As a final note on Move, Sony announced launch plans: Europe and North America in September, Japan in October. In what may be Sony's biggest Move mistake, the many elements required to get use of the equipment are sold in a confusing set of SKUs: the Bulb-controller alone costs $50, the "Nav" sub-controller $30, the PSEye camera and Controller and Sports Champions bundle is $100, and the Move PS3 bundle is lined up for $400. I'm already confused, and I actually know what all that stuff is: casual consumers are going to need a strategy guide just to buy the hardware!

Infamous 2 iceThe PS3 party didn't stop there, however, as Sony actually chose to end their packed show with a lot more PS3 coverage. Possibly the least-interesting was the new Playstation Plus program, a $50 yearly plan that would grant PSN users access to exclusive content, priority betas, full PSN games, store discounts, and exclusive demos, updated each month. Worry not, however, as current PSN features would remain free. A LittleBigPlanet 2 blowout challenges players to create ANY game. Whether it's puzzle, racing, RPG, or shooter, LBP2 can apparently do it all. Sony also stole a few games from other conferences, including Medal of Honor and Dead Space 2 from EA, each of which comes with a PS3-exclusive remastered game (Medal of Honor: Frontline and Dead Space: Extraction). Another title with PS3-exclusive content is Mafia II: PS3 owners will be able to download exclusive missions on day one, much like the opposite deal with Call of Duty on Microsoft's system. Exclusive PS3 benefits also come from Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, which will feature a multiplayer beta exclusive to PSN users later this year. Final Fantasy XIV finally made its gameplay debut, in a way that Final Fantasy XI fans should appreciate. Gran Turismo 5 was finally given a release date: November 2, 2010. inFAMOUS 2 made its appearance as expected, and seemingly adds ice-powers to hero Cole's lightning-based repertoire. Valve head and noted PS3-basher Gabe Newell showed up and admitted that Portal 2 would come to PS3 with Steam Cloud functionality, and even said it would be the preferred console to play the game on. And finally, Twisted Metal showed up in a big way, offering new co-op gameplay and online team-based modes that look to be a big evolution for the franchise to be released in 2011.

Sony threw a few bones to its portable platform as well, showing off an augmented reality game called Invizimals that uses a camera peripheral as well as more traditional games such as God of War: Ghost of Sparta, TRON Evolution, Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, Toy Story 3, Ace Combat Joint Assault, The 3rd Birthday, Gravity Crash Portable, Dragon Ball Z Tenkaichi, Hot Shots Tennis, Madden NFL 11, Patapon 3, Fat Princess: Fistful of Cake, Tetris, Piyotama (a puzzle game), Persona 3 Portable, Valkyria Chronicles 2, and UFC Unleashed 2010. Sony also outlined an entertaining new Step Up Your Game ad campaign that launches off of the successful Kevin Butler ads for PS3. Speaking of the Vice President of Playstation Humor, the man himself showed up at Sony's conference and gave a rousing speech, ironically, about how all gamers with all fanboy tendencies win at E3 (despite his constant jibes at the competition). It was hilarious, of course, and actually managed to be the highlight of the conference for me, despite a plethora of PS3 content.


Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword

Sony's showing was strong, but buzz on the internet seems to be that Nintendo walked away with this year's E3 conference. You wouldn't know it from how their show started, though. In an unexpected twist, Nintendo actually brought out The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword right away. A perfect storm of disaster manifested when Shigeru Miyamoto himself couldn't seem to get the "streamlined and precise" WiiMotion+ controls to work right. But worry not, Zeldanauts, because all reports from the show floor say the game works great: Miyamoto just experienced some infrared interference from the crowd. Things didn't get much more exciting at the show when Nintendo moved on to Mario Sports Mix, a package of Mario sports activities (volleyball, hockey, dodgeball, and basketball) and Wii Party, Nintendo's replacement for the Mario Party franchise set for a holiday 2010 release. Ubisoft's Just Dance game was also spotlighted, much to the chagrin of anyone who calls themselves a gamer, and the game's sequel (Just Dance 2) was also announced exclusively for Wii.

Kirby Epic Yarn TankThe disappointments would prove to be over at this point, however, and Nintendo's real show was about to begin. For a few minutes, NOA President Reggie Fils-Aime dispelled the doubts of Nintendo's ongoing success with some sales data and customer behavior studies. For the next hour, he did the same with a flurry of great surprises. Golden Sun: Dark Dawn started things off, confirmed to launch this holiday season after being absent since last year's E3. Next up was a Wii-exclusive update to GoldenEye 007 from the N64, newly re-imagined but still full of nostalgic moments. Disney's anticipated Epic Mickey showed up, finally showing off a solid gameplay demonstration. Metroid: Other M made its appearance in a new trailer, showing off more sexy-lady-in-sexy-armor action, coming to your Wii August 31st. Kirby finally makes his apperance on Wii this fall with Kirby Epic Yarn, a sidescrolling platformer that seems to focus on yarn-based puzzle elements. The platformer parade continued to march with Donkey Kong Country Returns, a new installment in the classic SNES Rare games given life by Retro Studios, the team behind the Metroid Prime games.

3ds Blue

You'd think Nintendo would be done after showing off brand new entries into several of its most famous franchises, but then they blew the doors off. Nintendo 3DS is here, and it's the real deal. No glasses needed. Top screen 3.5 inch widescreen and displays in 3D. Bottom screen is regular old 2D touchscreen. Analog nub and d-pad both on left side. 3D depth slider to adjust the 3D effect from maximum to zero. Significant graphical improvement, reportedly on the level of Gamecube or even Wii. Motion sensors and gyro sensor built in. Compatible with all DS software and DSiware. Take and view 3D photos in minutes. Watch Hollywood movies in 3D (though no specific plans for content yet). Wi-Fi access to improved Nintendo online services for no monthly fee. Nintendo hasn't been the hardware king in quite some time, but reports from the show floor are almost universally ecstatic.

kid Icarus Uprising CloseupSo then it was time for the 3DS game announcements. And there were many, headlined by a trailer for Kid Icarus: Uprising from Masahiro Sakurai's Project Sora team, pulled together specifically to make a slam-bang 3DS launch game. A point was made that, in times past, Nintendo had to lead the way on their own hardware with fantastic launch games. Not this time: top developers are on board the 3DS bandwagon from the get-go with top games: DJ Hero 2, Kingdom Hearts, Professor Layton, Saints Row, Madden NFL 11, Resident Evil, Batman, Assassin's Creed, Ridge Racer, and Metal Gear Solid 3 were all outlined in a montage, as was Nintendogs + Cats. Tons more games have been shown in pictures and release lists floating around online since the conference, such as Dead or Alive, Ninja Gaiden, Ocarina of Time 3D, Star Fox 64 3D, Mario Kart 3DS, The Sims 3DS, Street Fighter IV 3D...there are literally dozens more, but I'm not even going to bother listing. I have my doubts that all of them will see retail shelves, as many experiences seen at the E3 show floor appear to be tech demos, but if even half of these games meet consumer hands, 3DS is already shaping up to have one of the greatest software lineups ever.


With such a strong and unexpected showing of hardware and software, it would certainly seem that Nintendo won this year's media-oriented industry event, with Sony running a close competition for the crown, and Microsoft and company bringing up the rear for sure. But I like to think Kevin Butler was on to something in his unexpectedly wholesome gaming speech. It's never been a better time to be a fan of videogames, no matter which console you own. So many amazing interactive entertainment experiences have been offered to us this generation, and so many more are yet to come. It's a fortunate time we live in, when Microsoft showing off Halo: Reach, Gears of War 3, and Fable III in a span of twenty minutes could possibly be labeled a disappointment.

ps3 Kevin Butler